Years ago I remember waking from a dream laughing hysterically. In this dream I told a joke that was so hilarious that everyone in my dream had splitting sides. As I sat on the edge of my bed laughing, I promised to write down this joke so I could share it with my friends later. But I decided to write it down after eating breakfast. An hour later it was completely gone, and to this day I have no idea what caused me to laugh so hard that it woke me from a deep sleep.
There is no doubt in my mind that it is buried somewhere deep in my subconscious waiting to be rediscovered. I wonder if this is what the "gut" really is; some experience, encounter, thought or information buried deep in our subconscious that seeps to the surface just enough to be a whisper but not enough to be clearly identified. This is why the gut instinct is so important. It may very well be based on a piece of credible information that is buried too deep for us to "put our finger on it".
So, how do everyday entrepreneurs go about following the gut without going down too many wild paths or jumping to the wrong conclusions? Following are steps I find extremely effective, which help me get it right most of the time.
1. One Small Leap
Just because you have a great idea that suddenly inspires you does not mean you should immediately invest your life savings in that idea. This is what causes so many people to stop before starting. There is this belief that you must dive head first without looking. Instead take a small action to see where it leads you. There is a very good chance that whatever source inspired the gut feeling will reveal more of the steps required to fully realize the vision.
This happened to me a few days ago. I've been walking around for weeks working out a problem in my head. Then after getting the best night of sleep I've had in weeks, I woke up with a clear action to take. It was something I had not considered and even seemed a bit strange. But I decided to take a small leap in that direction. I went to my kitchen counter, opened my laptop and started hammering away at the problem. Even as I sat there working, seeds of doubt managed to creep in. I continued nonetheless. As I continued, the solution became clearer and clearer until it finally all made sense. The solution was a merging of two ideas; one from several years ago and a new one from a few weeks ago. Had someone suggested this to me a week ago, I would have called them crazy.
2. Consciously Fight the Habit of Negation
Many people have the destructive habit of talking themselves out of great ideas almost instantly. The real trick is in how it is done; with clever and humorous put downs. So, some great idea flashes into your mind. You leap up in excitement at the possibilities. Then, mere seconds later you say something like, "But that's a crazy idea" or "Who would be interested in that". You say these things as you laugh to yourself, then go back to whatever you were doing before inspiration hit. Something in your environment likely triggered this idea; a smell; a sound; something you touched. It recalled something deep down inside of you that you batted away as quickly as it arrived. Meanwhile, you may have just missed out on your very own "pet rock". "A pet rock. What a stupid idea."
The only way I know of kicking a bad habit is by deliberate effort. Nowadays I actually look for this menace to appear, and when I see it I bat it down immediately. With enough conscious effort anyone can replace the habit of negation with the habit of action.
3. Quiet the Mind
If the gut instinct is really just a whisper of something deeper, then it is impossible to hear a whisper in a noisy room. If there is a great deal of "noise" in your mind in the form of worry, fear, anxiety and other negative emotions, it is unlikely you will recognize or even hear the gut when it speaks. If you suffer from self doubt, you may hear it but ignore it more often than not. Quieting the mind requires stepping away from the problem and focusing attention on other positive and healthy activities. Have you ever noticed how solutions to problems pop into your head when your attention is on something totally different? Meditation in whatever form you chose is another good method because the focus is on deliberately quieting the mind. Before you know it, the noise level will go down and the whispers will get louder.
4. Don't Be Afraid of Being Wrong
Just because you decide to follow your gut does not mean you will be correct 100% of the time. There is the chance you will misinterpret the information or fail in your execution. There is also the chance of being flat wrong. I would rather try and be wrong than to not try and always wonder. As you practice listening to your gut and quieting your mind, your rate of accuracy will increase. But you have to first learn to trust yourself.
So the next time your gut speaks to you, heed the message and take some small action. If you hesitate or "wait to have breakfast first" it will likely vanish as quickly as it arrived.
If you are interested in a more clinical discussion on the subject of gut instinct and the unconscious, take a look at Dr. James Hayden's post called Trust Your Gut. This is also geared specifically to entrepreneurs.